Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells

The Turnbull government is now so dependent on creating or exploiting xenophobic crises to stay in power that it is fighting internal wars about which ones to prioritise. 

Witness, for example, last week’s sally by Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, who, as Minister for International Development, has charge over Australia’s miserly global aid contribution.

The problem was not our utterly inadequate contribution to neighbouring countries, some of whom had been former colonial possessions; the real worry was the Chinese, who were not doing the aid thing properly. 

This was a bit of old Cold Warrior-dom from Fierravanti-Wells, who comes from the remnant Catholic anti-communist section of the right, and was done presumably as a piece of factional infighting.

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But the substance of it, complete with a few coat-trailing articles by the Oz, indicates the deeply patronising and unreflective attitude of the right towards the rise of China by the Western right: a simultaneous desire to withdraw from engagement with the developing world, and a resentment that the West is no longer the only source of significant aid.

There was concern, Fierravanti-Wells said, that China was funding “wasteful projects” for “political gain”. Well, good God, how unlike the humanitarian dispensation of lily-white Western aid, which has never been directed at propping up dictators, and finding new markets for Western corporations to rip off blind. 

This went down about as well in Beijing as it did in Port Moresby, Phnom Penh, Jakarta and elsewhere — as dripping hypocrisy, the voice from beneath the pith helmet, telling brown people and others of colour how to live.

Most like Fierravanti-Wells and others in the right believe this guff — that Western aid, which is heavy on services and marketisation, and low on infrastructure — is delivered in a spirit of generosity, while Chinese aid is done with a view to binding nations into its communist embrace. 

The reverse, if anything, is the case. For decades Western aid has been administered either as military materiel aid, disguised as humanitarian aid; or with a view to extending the “free” market into societies whose development stage may require nationalist and bounded solutions.

China doesn’t do that. It may well bind in developing countries with treaties and business preferences, but it actually delivers: roads, bridges, dams, ports — large-scale infrastructure that such nations would be unable to achieve on their own. And without the vast overruns and middle-man corruption that comes with Western corporate-administered aid.

Something else China doesn’t do is bomb countries to rubble before giving out the aid. Amazingly, other countries have noticed this, and concluded that China will actually move them forward, rather than treat them as “shithole” countries, to be subjected to disaster capitalism, which leaves them worse off than before. Though China’s aims are nationalist, there remains a degree of universalist communist commitment in their approach, which the nihilism created by Western, market-led solutions often dissolves. 

The kiss of the whip, in the Oz this morning, was the IMF worrying about developing countries becoming indebted to China. The IMF! Worrying about debt and interest! Having imposed the ’80s debt bomb and the Washington consensus — three decades of stagnation and extortion whose human cost in lost lives, lost opportunities, will dwarf the crimes of communism, the IMF now wants to lecture about responsible globalisation. Spare us.

Developing countries will be under no illusion about the limits of China’s generosity. But white Western leaders who lecture both parties about how to do development right have clearly fallen into the trap of believing the pro-empire guff pumped out by right-wing historians these days.

That is exactly the wrong approach. We have to get everything right to have a good relationship with the new world coming. That is especially so for Australia, white-trash settler nation at one end of Asia, its appalling treatment of its Indigenous people on display for all the world to see. 

Don’t think the world hasn’t noticed. Or that they aren’t looking for any excuse to line up against us. Or that anyone could blame them for doing so. It’s all a bit more important than the long march to Kirribilli, of the liberal right. 

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